Everyone loves a winner and, in 1794, the United States Army finally became one. In his earlier work, Wabash 1791, Winkler tells of the new nation’s first military campaign and the disaster that resulted. Fallen Timbers 1794, describes the campaign that led to a victory at Fallen Timbers and ultimately to the Treaty of Greenville.
The 1791 Battle of the Wabash, more commonly known as St Clair’s Defeat, essentially destroyed the United States Army. In 1792, congress created a new one. To lead this new army, The Legion of the United States of America, President Washington chose Revolutionary War veteran Anthony Wayne. Wayne did things quite a bit differently than did St Clair. He made sure his troops were trained and equipped before setting out and he placed a series of defensible forts so as to protect his supply line. Perhaps more importantly, he understood the Indian methods of combat and devised tactics to counter them. Like St Clair, Wayne had difficulties with supplies and contractors but it seems that now it was not only greed and incompetence that fueled them but an actual conspiracy aimed at causing his failure.
As he did in Wabash 1791, Winkler sets the scene for the campaign by describing the “strategic situation” and with chapters on the opposing commanders, armies, and plans. In many respects, the world situation was still much like it was in 1791. The United States was only a few years older and only a tiny bit more stable. Britain’s support and encouragement of the natives may have actually increased and neither France not Spain had vanished from North America. In fact, French elements were very much at play, often for the worse, inside the young nation. Of course, there were also plenty of homegrown problems. That previously mentioned conspiracy was one of them and, in the westernmost reaches, open revolt was a real possibility. These were the days of the Whiskey Rebellion. Less than three weeks before the Battle of Fallen Timbers, a crowd of 7,000 threatened to march on Pittsburgh. It was less than two months after the battle that President Washington personally went into the field to put down the uprising.
Three dimensional maps, like those that helped in understanding the Battle of Wabash, do the same for the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Other maps, along with period portraits and modern photographs, help understand the people and places involved. Peter Dennis’ wonderful paintings, one of which is used for the cover, provide realistic visualizations of specific battle scenes.
Winkler’s book on the Battle of the Wabash had nowhere near the shortcomings of the battle it described but he did manage to improve on it a little with Fallen Timbers 1794. I resorted to the word “scholarly” in describing the front end of Wabash 1791. It was justified, I offered, because it presented a lot of information that made later portions of the book flow more smoothly. But in this latest book, I never did get the feeling of slogging through mounds of dry facts that I had before. I have no way to quantify this and it may be simply that less preliminary facts are required or that they are less dry or that I am better prepared. Any or all of those could be true but my gut feel is that Winkler has refined his language and maybe even the structure to produce something more easily read.
During the last few years, any time that the average person felt like devoting to history was spent, more than likely, on the Civil War sesquicentennial. I have absolutely no disagreement with that but still thought it nice that, here and there, the bicentennial of the War of 1812 got some attention. The territory in dispute in 1812 was not all that different than what was being fought over in 1791 and 1794. Some of the nations and even some of the individuals involved were the very same. To the War of 1812 and especially to the Battle of the Thames, the battles at Wabash and Fallen Timbers were “prequels”.
Fallen Timbers 1794: The US Army’s first victory, John F Winkler, Osprey Publishing, February 2013, paperback, 9.8 x 7.2 inches, 96 pages, ISBN 978-1780963754